Enforcement of Philadelphia’s plastic bag ban set to begin April 1

The city will issue fines to stores for single-use plastic bags starting next month. A two-week awareness campaign is underway.

Reusable bags in a grocery aisle

American Family Market in Narberth sells reusable plastic bags. (Xavier Lopez for WHYY)

Philadelphia’s ban on plastic bags technically went into effect on Oct. 1, though enforcement was postponed for six months to help businesses prepare for the change.

Those six months are over April 1.

Mayor Jim Kenney told store owners to get ready, because warnings issued since October for failure to comply with the law will become fines next month.

“We urge businesses to make the necessary arrangements to avoid any financial penalties, and we urge shoppers to bring reusable bags to do your shopping,” Kenney said in a statement Tuesday morning. “Philadelphia is committed to advancing our environmental goals, and the ban on single-use plastic bags is an important step forward to achieve these goals.”

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The penalty for giving customers the banned bags is a minimum $150 fine, with each violation counting as a separate fine. Kenney’s office said businesses that continuously violate the law could be taken to court, where the city would advocate for additional penalties.

To help spread the word, the city is offering store owners signs and flyers to let customers know what to expect. It’s also providing store owners a list of vendors that sell reusable bags or paper bags. The latter are permitted under the new rules.

The plastic bag ban affects all commercial businesses in the city, regardless of size or type of product being sold — clothing or food or whatever.

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There are a handful of exceptions to the ban, including dry cleaner bags, bags used to deliver perishable items such as meat or fish, and bags provided by pharmacists to contain prescription drugs. Bags that keep newspapers from getting wet are also exempt. Stores can still sell bags sold in bulk, such as garbage bags or pet waste bags.

It is estimated that Philadelphians use about 1 billion bags every year. The new rules are designed to reduce the number of bags that litter Philadelphia’s streets and get into city waterways. City leaders say plastic bags make up about 17% of all litter fished out of rivers and streams in the city.

City inspectors will respond to complaints called in to 311 about plastic bag use to investigate possible violations of the law. They’ll also be on the lookout for bags being used if they’re already investigating a business for a separate violation.

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